.Kakan no Madonna article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 4, No. 11, October 2001
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

Animerica Extra readers know her as the artist of Revolutionary Girl Utena, but Chiho Saito has made more popular manga than that! Kakan no Madonna (The Flower Crown Madonna) is an angst-filled romantic adventure set in Renaissance Italy that's sure to please.

In 16th century Italy, there lived an omnipotent genius named Leonardo da Vinci. One of his paintings was lost --the "Flower Crown Madonna." Within it slept the mystery of the Emerald Legend, promising wealth and rulership...

Women's skirts don't keep Leonora from proving a challenging match for Lord Paolo. When their swordplay brings them close, Paolo distracts her by whispering "I love you," thus winning the match. Then he makes things worse by announcing her father has agreed to make Leonora Paolo's bride! When she confronts her father, he insists she's lucky such a wealthy, handsome, powerful lord would be interested in a poor noble's daughter. After all, marriage is the best a woman can hope for. Leonora morosely recalls how she never wanted to be a girl.

A young man gallops into Padova as Leonora and Paolo exit the church to a cheering crowd. Concerned the charging horse might hurt someone, Leonora throws her bridal veil across the beast's face, startling the animal to a halt. The rider is mesmerized. "The ‘Flower Crown Madonna' really exists..." When Paolo's lead lackey calls for the intruder's capture, the man rides away, leaving Leonora to wonder who he was and what the "Flower Crown Madonna" is.

While festivities wear noisily into the night, Paolo wants some time alone with his bride. Leonora stalls by asking why he chose her, but Paolo is too aroused to answer coherently. Leonora is saved by Paolo's lackey, who bursts in proclaiming he's figured out who the guy on the horse was. Curious, Leonora's attempts to listen through the door fail, so she tries to climb to the doorhead. The chain she grabs to help her up reveals a secret room. In it is a painting of a woman who looks just like Leonora! From here she overhears Paolo's conversation and learns the rider was Falco, Prince of Napoli. She also learns Paolo doesn't really love her. He only married her because of the legend of the Emerald Lion sword. Whoever has the sword will become King of Italy, and the da Vinci painting "Flower Crown Madonna" holds the secret to finding the sword.

Initially shocked by all this, Leonora escapes into the night, intent on destroying the painting. Considering the importance of it, she reconsiders then forms a plan. Cutting and dyeing her hair, she dons boys clothes. As ‘Leo,' Leonora sets off to find da Vinci to unravel the mystery behind the painting and prevent the Emerald Lion from falling into the wrong hands. Along the way, she stumbles across Falco, who is completely fooled by her alias. Falco befriends ‘Leo' and even helps in fleeing Paolo's men.

The plot escalates, adding the infamous Cesare Borgia to the list of those seeking the Flower Crown Madonna. Cesare proves to be a far more cunning, ruthless and powerful opponent than Paolo. With the introduction of the Borgias, poisonings, political plots, mysteries, and more soon follow, with lots of sword play and gender confusion to add to the drama and fun.

At only seven-volumes, The Flower Crown Madonna isn't a major commitment of time, money or shelf space. With a brave and daring heroine, a kind and noble hero, dastardly villains, action, drama, suspense and romance, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy this series. If you like historic fiction or are just looking for a new romance, give this series a try.